A Reflection: Is This OK?

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Last week Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez spoke before the U.S. House of Representatives. As I listened to her well-articulated speech, I resonated with every word. I especially loved the way she described why she had to stand up, not for herself alone, but because of the excuses she heard that would give others permission to act in similar ways to other women. It was powerful!

I know many other women also resonated with her words as we’ve shared our own experiences of being disrespected, disregarded, and worse, in a culture that simply doesn’t value girls and women in the same way it values boys and men. I am thankful that this woman used her power to lift up the voices of women, who are often marginalized.

I was so moved by her speech, I decided to post it on our Safe Church Facebook page. Those active in safe church ministry know that women suffer abuse at far higher rates than men do. Yet we don’t speak often about that.

The facts are undeniable, yet we always receive so much pushback when we bring gender into the equation, and we prefer to engage people, not alienate them. Therefore we often choose to keep silent about the gendered aspect of abuse. And frankly, we are very happy to include everyone when we talk about abuse. We believe that every single person is uniquely created in the image of God, with inherent dignity and worth. Jesus said that the way we treat the least of the people he’s created, it’s as if we are treating Jesus himself that same way. (See Matt. 25) What if we practiced seeing Jesus in each person, in every interaction?

Our mission in Safe Church is to build communities where everyone is respected and protected. Everyone means everyone, regardless of gender, race, political affiliation, views on abortion, being a capitalist or socialist, and so on. Again, everyone means everyone. Therefore, we equip congregations to stand against all forms of abuse, to make efforts to prevent it, and to respond with justice and compassion wherever it occurs.

I was on vacation when I posted Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s speech, just checking in before heading off to the family cottage where there is no cell coverage or internet. The family cottage is filled with memories and I love spending time there with my children and grandchildren who travel from other states to be there together each summer. I completely missed what was referred to as the “social media fire” that happened regarding my post, which led another Safe Church staff member to take it down.

I was saddened when I learned what had happened. Though I didn’t see any of the comments, I would guess that most were politically focused. That is not the point, and not at all what her speech was about. The point is that no one deserves the disrespect that she received. Can we agree about that? Is it OK for a Congressional Representative, a leader who sets the example for others, to refer to a colleague, in front of reporters using the words that Rep. Ted Yoho used? Is this OK?

I wonder if we are able to look inside ourselves and consider where our pushback or angry backlash comes from. What do our thoughts and feelings, and our message say about us?  

I can't complete this reflection without saying something about white male power in our culture, and all that goes along with it, including at times the acceptance of incivility and the disrespectful, abusive language used by some, which is represented here. It is so common, a normalized part of the earned privilege of white men. There are white men who would never use the language that Representative Yoho used, yet might be unaware of how their far nicer words and actions play into the narrative of devaluing women.

A colleague, Melissa Stek, has written an excellent article about the same dynamic played out in a different context. It’s called, “The Costliness of Covert Sexism.” Those who are on the receiving end of this kind of dehumanizing language and behavior, who stand up to challenge this norm, are accused of being disrupters, or wily manipulators, playing gender or race cards. This is not a fair playing field, for women, and for others who are marginalized.

I wonder what it might take for us to begin to open ourselves to listen to these voices, and to learn from them. Why is it that the marginalized voices seem to stay the same, for decades? What's preventing real change? What are our fears that prevent us from humbly listening?

I wonder how the Church is called to look different. We, the bride of Christ, blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms, filled with the Holy Spirit and with power (See Ephesians 1). I wonder how we are living into the biblical vision to be a blessed community so that we might be a blessing to the nations.

The Christian organization, Bread for the World, accepted the resignation of board member, Rep. Ted Yoho, after the public confrontation with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The organization noted that his recent actions and words did not reflect the ethical standards they expect of board members and they sought his resignation to reaffirm their commitment to come alongside women and people of color as they lead us to a more racially inclusive and equitable world.

I wonder what kind of future world we envision. Are we content with what is, with oppressive racial and gender hierarchies? Are we open to hope for something better, for communities where all people, created in God's image, can thrive. When we pray, “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven,” what do we envision?

Bread for the World may disagree on other issues, but stood with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on this one. The question remains for us to answer for ourselves. Where do we stand, is this OK?

Note: If you choose to comment, please follow The Network guidelines and keep to the topic, which is the recent interchange between two members of congress, as a representative sample of the disrespect faced far too often in the lives of women and other marginalized people.

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Thanks for posting about this Bonnie.
It is a very sad that Rep. Yoho would say what he said about Rep Ocasio-Cortez. It is absolutely not ok. I am so proud of her for speaking up and speaking the truth to him.
I am thankful that Bread For The world requested and accepted his resignation. If only more organizations would stand up like this for all who are mistreated.
Also extremely sad was Rep. Yoho's none apology.  I wonder how his wife and daughter feel about his words. 
I remember growing up how I was treated as less important because I was considered not as intelligent as others. My sisters and I were bullied at school because we were from a different country. And that different country was England as our family had immigrated to Canada! How much harder it was/is for immigrants of other colors and cultures.
In my church women are still treated as less than. I remember a man looking me up and down and commenting on my looks in front of other men. No one questioned it. Apart from physical/sexual comments there is the assumption that women are not as capable or as intelligent or that they are less than before God and cannot be in leadership. Much of this is not spoken of, it is hidden, part of the culture, hard to expose, one is patted on the head and told "of course you are important in this church."
Thank-you again for speaking out for us all.

Community Builder

Thank you for your thoughtful comments, how "hidden" this is as part of our culture makes it difficult to confront.

Guide

Bonnie, thanks for putting the reprehensible words of Rep. Yoho as well as the responses of Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and of Bread for the Word into a much broader context of the systemic sin which permeates our society and which many of us (males, in particular) don't see. As you point out so well, this is about much more than an exchange between two people and much more than vulgar name calling of one individual by another.  God calls us to do justice and love mercy in our individual relationships and in our engagement with society as we work against the systemic sins of racism, ableism, and sexism, "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." Eph 6:12

Community Builder

Thank you for your important reflection! Working alongside you as we "wonder what kind of future world we envision"!

Participant

Thanks Bonnie. Nothing easy about standing up for justice in the church, is there?  And God forbid that we should try to have Christlike conversations about difficult issues. I'm stunned, frankly, that such a fire storm was ignited that your post had to be taken down. Stunned and sad. I SO want to believe we can be better than this. I pray for you and your team and for the CRC. Don't be weary in well doing, sister!

Community Builder

Thank you Karl, you're right that justice work is not easy, we all need the encouragement to not grow weary.

Bonnie, thank you for this. I didn't see your post nor the comments, but I did see this topic in other places. On Facebook I saw several people who said she should not have commented about this interaction in public. Well, we know that that's one of the ways some men wish to keep evil from being exposed -- they tell women not to talk about it. AOC was right to say what happened. And you were right to write about it.

I was considering writing a note about why AOC might not have been the best person to use to make your point. But then I read:

"I can't complete this reflection without saying something about white male power in our culture, and all that goes along with it, including incivility and the disrespectful, abusive language represented here. It is so common, a normalized part of the earned privilege of white men."

Sounds like any comment I might make would be rejected because of my color and gender. Because I'm a white male I am presumed to be uncivil and disrespectful and abusive.

So I'll pass on offering any thoughts

 

Community Builder

Hi Bill,

You are absolutely right to point out the lack of clarity of my expression. Thanks for pointing it out. I have since changed my comment. My intent was not to imply that every white male always speaks with incivility and uses disrespectful language, not at all. I respect white men and want to hear from them in this forum. And disrespectful language is not the sole domain of white men. We all must guard our language. I apologize that my comment may have hindered any white men from responding. The new statement reads, "I can't complete this reflection without saying something about white male power in our culture, and all that goes along with it, including at times the acceptance of incivility and the disrespectful, abusive language used by some, which is represented here." I invite you to imagine a woman, or a person of color or other marginalized person using the same words. How does that affect our response to it? Hope that's helpful. Thank you.

 

How sad that you assume from this article that Bonnie would reject you and call you uncivil, disrespectful and abusive. She is not saying that all white men are like this -just that it is a normalized issue among white men. If you are not these things then please don't assume she meant you.
You say that  you pass on offering any thoughts but you didn't.
You made it clear that you question Bonnie's choice of using  Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez to make her point about how many men treat women. 
No matter what Rep. Cortez has or has not said prior to this speech, it is still entirely inappropriate that Rep. Ted Yoho spoke these words to her and about her.
I was wondering if you think that if sometimes it would be okay for someone to use words like Rep. Yoho used depending on how much one approves or disapproves of the women they are spoken to or about?

Nothing I said suggests that I would ever approve of such words, regardless of their target, and it's a bit insulting to suggest that I might.

Maybe I'm feeling a little chippy today, but this was the third article I read today from denominational personnel using the concepts of Critical Race Theory as if that theory has validity. It's foundations are profoundly at odds with Christianity

Guide

Hi Bill, you seem to imply that Bonnie, and others, are using Critical Theory, instead of their Christian lens, through following Jesus, and believing biblical justice as the grounds for sharing their words. It is fine to feel chippy and not be a fan of Critical Theory, but there are concepts here regarding systems, power, and injustices that are actually experienced by people. To simply say seeing those injustices rely upon Critical Theory foundation - and not real experiences of people, which are made in the image of God, and which the justice and grace of Jesus is applicable may be causing you to miss the point of Bonnie's piece here, in my opinion. 
AOC may be a critical theorist (I don't know...), and not have "biblical justifications" yet, her experiences are completely in the realm of the need for justice - and not just her, but for many women who have experienced similar levels of harassment, or that of being accosted.
And... I'm not a fan of online debates, but did feel the need to address this. 

Eric, it is certainly not my intent to impugn the Christian character of any of the authors. But I remain very concerned by the apparent embrace of Critical Theory by many of the CRC's leaders. Critical Theory is rooted in the search for power and views all all human relationships through the lens of power. It creates a framework in which people are either oppressors or victims.

The paragraph I objected to adds nothing constructive to Bonnie's essay other than to introduce that formula. White men have power and are oppressors. Therefore women are victims. It divides us into the categories of oppressors and victims. I accept that wasn't Bonnie's intention. Unfortunately, the heart of Critical Theory is to deliberately create such division. 

Without that paragraph I would have had nothing but praise for this article. What Rep. Yoho said was reprehensible and worthy of censure.

 

 

Community Builder

Just a quick note, I said the words, "I can't complete this reflection without saying something about white male power in our culture, and all that goes along with it ..." because that is a necessary part of the story. It provides the context and must be considered. As a social worker, systems theory is part of my vocabulary. Problems exist on more than one level, individual, family, community institution - to address a problem, we must often look beyond the individual interaction to the broader context.

 

Participant

Thanks for your attention to this most important concern, even in the CRC denomination.  As was said before, it is not easy to confront, but it is necessary.

As for some background, some readers may be interested in watching the Netflix movie about Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s rise to power - find out more about what motivates this woman. The movie is "Knock Down the House" and there is a trailer on Youtube:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_wGZc8ZjFY4   Enjoy!

Community Builder

Thanks for the tip. The trailer definitely makes me want to watch this documentary.

Participant

Thanks for the link to the documentary. After watching it, my response is that our families, churches, schools, businesses, social institutions, and governments will benefit from more women who are willing to speak up and out, identify, and implement plans for much needed change.  Of course men will be required to support and assist as they did in AOC's campaign. Working together in a complementary manner is always the best option.  

Community Builder

I'm an ordained, white male in his early 60's, married to a respected, ordained Minister of the Word and Sacrament with a great track record in CRC parish ministry. I have come full circle from complimentarian to egalitarian in my view of women in authoritative office. Their right to authority within multiple powerful systems structures, whether church, government or family, continues to be thwarted, undermined and in the case of Yoho's brutal comments to a powerful woman, rudely maligned. 

The old boy's club continues to be alive and well in government, church and family. Lord have mercy on us. Jesus plainly raised, in the case of his earthly ministerial context, brown-skinned  young women from his mother to Mary Magdalene to egalitarian status with all during his ministry on many different occasions, so many women in fact, that all the stories could not be told, just the most obvious, plain-as-the-nose-on-your-face, striking ones. Why do older white men fear the loss of power to such intelligent, thoughtful and gifted people?

Put the shoe on the other foot and have Ocasio-Cortez call Yoho a:  $*^%^&$ bastard and then imagine what would have happened...Joe Biden is about to call to his side a powerful woman to her role as potential vice-president and possibly one day, president of the United States. May she be given all the dignity, respect and honour she so rightly deserves.

Participant

Thanks Kelly, so important to have it said again. 

Hi Kelly,

To the extent that Ocasio-Cortez has previously defended and supported her close friend in her calling President Trump a motherfu*#er, we really don't have to use our imaginations too much.  The reaction was predictable.  Supporters of the two ladies defended them, while those of differing perspective spoke against them and the "rudely maligning" language that was used.  Perhaps they feel that President Trump is not worthy of honor and respect, and I suppose to great extent I agree with them if we think of things on a merely secular, personal level.  But if we move beyond the personal, we realize there is an office that deserves respect (which Ocasio-Cortez herself stressed in noting that she is a Congresswoman).  And if we move past the secular, we realize that for Christians, such rude maligning is never acceptable.  I suspect that Bonnie would have gotten less of a negative reaction if she would have chosen an example who was more consistent in her calls for civility and respect.  Whether Bonnie wants to recognize the pattern or not, there is a partisan (not political) slant that comes from her and much of the rest of the CRC bureaucracy that inevitably gets push-back.  It would be nice to see the various employees listen instead of doubling down on regular partisanship.  

And for what it's worth, your comment implies that complementarians are simply an "old boy's club" filled with men who "fear the loss of power".  Many will perceive such a characterization as a rude maligning, including my wife and mother, who I happen to believe are deserving of respect and honor.

Community Builder

Eric,

Being Canadian, I don't mix politics too much with faith.

I don't believe the issue is partisanship, rather gender equality in human society as outlined in the broader historical sweep of scripture. Given the historical and current fact of all forms abuse against women by men in power (emotional, physical and spiritual), whether in church, government or business, the issue becomes one of justice for the abused.

The courageous people who work in safe church ministry understand the facts of the elevated levels of abuse against women. They are sworn to confidentiality around the details of each horrific case of abuse of office and power. Most cases go untold as victims sit in silent fear.

They know they are required to deal with abuse from a professional ministry stand-point using safe church protocol and take their work seriously as ministry to the oppressed and down-trodden. They are not here to grind an axe but to bring to the surface the hidden evil that exists in darkened corners of supposedly respectable places.

Complimentarianism, although as a theological, theoretical construct has not properly interpreted the nature of gender roles and equality. Always reforming, the "compliment" to men deserve better than what they have received.

Regarding Trump, (a known abuser of women) I have little to zero respect, politics and powerful office aside.

I am not somehow speaking against the work of the safe church ministry, so your explanation of their work misses the point for me.  If you do not see a partisan slant/approach broadly speaking in CRC work, you are entitled to your viewpoint.  Many others see things differently.  Unfortunately, those in power in the CRC tend to lord it over others, resulting in increasing tensions and reduced institutional support.

Community Builder

Eric,

Of course, we all have our opinions. You have stated your very succinctly. Thanks!

Kelly

Community Builder

With all due respect, biblical calls for justice are non-partisan.

Bonnie, with all due respect, if you think that I am referring to biblical calls for justice as partisan, then you are not listening well.